The many (job) roles of content
I’ve had a number of conversations recently, with people from around the world, on what we, content people, call ourselves.
There’s some irony right there.
Do you call yourself a content editor, content writer, digital writer, content designer, copywriter… any of those? We have a lot of names for ourselves.
With that in mind, I thought I would write a short version of titles from my own perspective and see if you have a similar view. Then, maybe, we can come to an agreement. Add a comment below about how you see this – let’s get it sorted.
Traditionally from advertising, copywriters are a creative lot. They may or may not have access to a team who can provide research or search data and often work in the market of pushing a brand.
Wikipedia says: “A technical writer is a professional writer who produces technical documentation that helps people understand and use a product or service.” And that about sums it up for me. These people help us understand our tech and our gadgets.
Editor (digital editor etc)
This is the most wide-ranging, I think. You can have any type of editor, like a video editor or game editor. Then you have the traditional journalist-type editor who decides overall communications for a publication.
In digital, ‘editor’ could mean someone who writes, someone who writes and edits, or someone who just edits someone else’s work. All of this could be with or without access to research and search data.
No wonder most of them are tired.
Sub editor (or 2i)
Sub editors often sit last in the publishing process. They look at content in context to make sure the content fits with the rest of the publication or service. Then they edit and/or check for the nitty-gritty things like style or grammar errors. They are the guardians of quality and Rubbish Shall Not Pass.
Note on ‘2i’ – we used this at the Government Digital Service, it’s short for ‘second eyes’. This was just shorthand but I realise it is being used elsewhere now.
I don’t know if it was used elsewhere (probably was) but for the British Government, it came from a conversation about what we were going to call the new GOV.UK beta content team.
In the past, in a lot of government departments, content people were just seen as those who published whatever they were told to publish. They could write or edit. But if a policy person said a piece of content had to be 5,000 words and use terms that no-one would ever search for, so be it. Don’t get me wrong, not all departments were like this and most editors tried their best. Government, at that point, simply didn’t value content as a discipline.
I felt that content people shouldn’t be limited to words. Content people should only be limited to what the research or product iteration shows is the best way for the target audience to consume that information. That could be a tool, calculator, calendar, video etc. Content should mean content, not words.
Government needed to see that its content people could do so much more than they were being allowed to. I chose ‘content designer’ as a term for the British Government at the time.
I wanted people in the departments to change the way they viewed my team and the best way of doing that was to stop using old terms.
Content designers have access to all research and data at all times of the content production process. They take a user need and create content – whatever form it may take – to fulfil that need. They must understand user behaviour, vocabulary and mental models before they write a single word. And they need to know how to track and iterate that content.
In some organisations, writers or editors do this.
For me, the content strategist understands the organisation’s communications – all of it. That doesn’t mean they do it and they may not be able to influence all of it, but they know what it is. That way, all the messages, online or offline are consistent and coherent.
They often have input on the governance and workflow of content as well as the tone and style. They are the people who can take the organisation’s business goals, see what digital can do to help fulfil those goals and get it all on track. Strategy in the fullest sense of the word.
So, that’s my experience. Sometimes, I think lines are so blurred ‘content person’ is the best to use. What do you think?